Category Archives: Uncategorized

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Sungchum Friendship School, Puichi, Manipur

Sneha Phalle; sister of our former Programme Manager Ankita Phalle, lent a helping hand in setting up a new school from scratch in the village of Puichi. She writes about her learnings and experience.

 

My sister, Ankita had been working with Sunbird trust in Manipur for nearly a year. I had been fascinated by her experiences and always wished for a chance to contribute to the work. In February 2018, my wish was granted.

Sunbird Trust was facilitating the setup of a new school at a small village, Puichi. Puichi is a quaint village with the charm of hefty mountains in the background and the most beautiful sunsets. The Government primary school was situated 4 kms from the village, hence very difficult for the small kids to walk down to during rains. Mr. Samuel, from the village, approached Sunbird Trust to look for a solution. With further talks and discussion, the plan for Sungchum Friendship School, a K-3 school was materialized.

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The school model is unique in many ways. The Army had vacated barracks in the village, which stood locked without any use. Sunbird trust approached them to open up the barracks to be used for the school. Permission was readily given, and thus the children had classrooms.

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The village came together to set up the school for their children. One villager offered to make the furniture without charging any money. Parents took shifts to clean the surroundings, build a fence, dig a pit and to cement the staircase. On my first visit to Puichi, we were to paint the walls of classrooms. With the number of parents (and teachers) who had come out to help that day, I hardly got the chance to hold a paintbrush. The painting was done in lesser time than expected.

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The school had a staff of 5 teachers and a Principal to lead them. They were a mix of experienced teachers and teachers teaching for the first time ever. I had the privilege of designing trainings for them; and with no surprise at all, I ended with more learning than I could give. The team walked to a close-by village, about 5 kms, for a week to attend training sessions for 3 hours, everyday. The desire to be better teachers, combined with the determination to give the best to their children resulted in interesting sessions.

The school follows a no gender discrimination policy. With similar uniforms for both, boys and girls, they’re breaking stereotypes at every step.

On the day of the scheduled opening of the school, there was heavy rainfall with stormy winds. Our hopes for a good first-day attendance were dropping. As we approached the school before the first bell, we saw a frenzy of activity. Parents and teachers had been preparing since early morning, and most kids were present on the premises much before time. The excitement was at the highest! Further into the week, this became a common sight. Most kids arrived half an hour before school began, and helped the teachers with set up and other preparation.

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Upon knowing of my time in Manipur, I’m often questioned about the safety and slapped with the preconceived notion of me having a difficult time. In reality, it was the exact opposite. I had the most comfortable and safe time. During all of my stay, I was welcomed in homes and kitchens. Even my food habit differences were tried to be taken care of. I could walk alone from one village to another at any time of the day. I would credit all this to the work of Sunbird Trust. The organization has been accomplishing extensive work in parts of Manipur and stays true to its vision, “Peace through education.” My sister, Ankita has been an integral part of the organization for the past year and has given strength to numerous people to follow their dreams. I have drawn immense inspiration from her.

The time I spent at Manipur certainly left me feeling more enriched with experiences and learning. I returned with their infectious energy and ready to take on new challenges.

 

Date: 15th July 2018
By Sneha Phalle


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Hope

Sunbird’s very own “Chief Engineer” Konish Naidu writes about his encounter with a beautiful couple who started the ‘Hope Foundation’ to take care of the educational needs of kids in the village of Tamei in Tamenglong District of Manipur. Read on to know more about how this couple made a big difference to many lives. Sunbird Trust is now partnering with Hope Foundation to build a hostel complex for underprivileged tribal children from small villages around Tamei.

 

Hope is a feeling that keeps us humans sane in our darkest of times. It can come from ourselves, from others, God, inanimate objects…anything.

I would like to narrate a story of a couple that is worth knowing and spreading.

As my work would have it, this time I found myself in Tamei one of the slightly more developed Naga settlements in Manipur. I was dreading this 4 hour journey from Imphal to Tamei as the roads are in pretty bad shape, but I had my playlist and the amazing landscape to keep me company.  I got onto one of the army trucks heading to Tamei and the bumpy road began.

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I was sitting next 3 Sikh soldiers who continuously made me laugh and kept asking me why I am doing whatever I am doing.  Anyway, cutting the long journey short I finally arrived at the 14 Sikh Camp where I was put up for the night. My agenda was to visit a couple who started a school called “Hope Foundation” and see how Sunbird can help them. So as I arrived, I changed and set out immediately to see the institution.

I was quite tired after the long truck journey but all my weariness and fatigue vanished as I was greeted with the sight of many children playing and laughing (hope not at me).

WHAT A SIGHT !!

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Once I met the couple and got to know their story and how they started Hope Foundation, I couldn’t help but feel for them and yet be inspired by their come up.

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Namthanbou and Judith are both well-educated individuals who have now dedicated their lives towards the development of their village and local community through education. They wanted to have children of their own but God had other plans for them. They took this sign as a blessing when most would have cursed and instead adopted 10 orphan children and began educating them and taking care of them. With this they embarked on the journey of officially starting a school and giving something to the community, something others were not willing to do. Now they have 120 kids in their school and providing them with quality education, but unfortunately they are barely getting by, this is why Sunbird is here. Sunbird Trust is now sponsoring 120 children studying in Hope Foundation and funding the construction of a new hostel for them.

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The couple themselves built the school with their own hands..  no masons and no labor.  The school building, classrooms everything done by themselves!

To me, this couple is a manifestation of an unbreakable spirit and a symbol of hope. Despite all their problems and hurdles that they faced they still kept going. No support from the government what so ever. They would teach in the morning and go to their fields in the evening, which means no breathing space for them whatsoever.

I spent both my days taking lectures for the kids and playing football and badminton with them. Easily one of the highlights of 2017.

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Date: 1st April 2018 
By Konish Naidu

 


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Kawikengou

Sunbird’s “Chief Engineer” Konish Naidu on his experience of traveling to an extremely remote village in the Kadi hills with our Former Programme Manager and dear friend Ankita Phalle and Project Manager Amos with the vision to build a school in this barely accessible region. Read on to know more about his journey and experience…

 

"Towards a new light"

“Towards a new light” 

This post has been a long time coming. I have drafted innumerable versions of this and still haven’t found a perfect one. None of them seem to fit or be apt but never the less here we are…

Over the past year on my social media, I have been sharing pictures of my team and I trekking over 100 kilometers on really rugged terrain with some really breathtaking views. It is not that I like walking 100 kilometers up and down the same track but all this was for a really challenging project that I never thought would mean everything to me.

Kadi lies comfortably on top the range. This picture was taken by me before we started the climb.  Major crisis in my head at the time.

Kadi lies comfortably on top of the range. This picture was taken by me before we started the climb. Major crisis in my head at the time.

Kadi, a cluster of 5 villages situated on the border of Manipur and Nagaland far away from a comfortable life, has some of the most stunning landscapes and endearing people I have ever come across and I have been to Switzerland.. ( not showing off).  But unfortunately, for the people and children the remoteness of the place proved to be an impediment to the overall development of the area. It all began when a re-presentative from Kadi had a vision for his people and was bold enough to approach Sunbird Trust and ask for our help- Lavner Chawang, who later on was not only someone I worked with but also became a friend. He realized the importance of education in today’s day and age and wanted to establish a school along with Sunbird Trust so the children up there could get a fair shot at life.

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Kadi, unfortunately has fallen into the traps of insurgency. Conflict leads to an insufficiency of education which further results in conflict. It really is a vicious cycle.

The people there also have quite a love-hate relationship with the Army and this project was also a great opportunity to change any stereotypes that both sides may have about each other. How? By getting the Indian Army involved with the construction of the school. Imagine a Sikh soldier carrying and mixing concrete for a school building in a conflict-affected area in the North East. This image in my head speaks volumes.

In our first visit there my team and I surveyed the area and met the people and we absolutely fell in love with the place and we just HAD to do it.

My role was to facilitate the construction of the school. So after making the budget and the plan for the school came the hard part. I know I said its a beautiful place with lovely people but getting there is a 45 km trek and which mostly uphill, there is no electricity, zero phone connectivity and no one speaks English or Hindi fluently.  But over time its gets easier and as we know we as humans are configured to adapt.

Lavner and I on the school site.

Lavner and I on the school site.

 

Wood for the school, sawn and kept.

Wood for the school, sawn and kept.

 

Planning of the school. We used ropes and stick as measurement references.

Planning of the school. We used ropes and stick as measurement references.

 

Setting up rest camps for the laborers.

Setting up rest camps for the laborers.


 

For all those who are genuinely interested in my experience, I wish you could enter my thoughts and see what I have seen and lived what I have lived. It is the most beautiful yet terrifying experiences I have ever had.

First of the walk to the site was amazing the first couple of times but after a while it starts to get to you and then its no more about the body but you put yourself under a series of mental tests and questions such “Why are you doing this?” and “Why are you here ?”  gets thrown around in your head. After a point every step I took, my body resisted and rebelled but my mind kept strong and my heart stronger.

Secondly and more importantly in addition to the physical test was the ability to cope with myself or in other words – loneliness.  In a place with no electricity one definitely learns effective management of their phone battery.

But above all I met so many people and children who thought the world of me but instead I was humbled, for I was left counting my blessings for everything I’ve got and most importantly having the gift of an opportunity. 

Hopefully, the school gives the children an opportunity and instead of falling into the realms of insurgency they run into the arms of education.

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Kids playing football with posts made of sticks!!

Kids playing football with posts made of sticks!!

The school will be called Kawikengou Friendship School and hopefully if circumstances permit it will start next year. Kawikengou means – “Towards a new light”. It’s kind of uncanny because now that I have moved to a new place it also marks a new beginning for me. I wish I could stick around and see the school and children in it grow but that’s not how life works.

At least I can say I started the movement.

Date: 6th February, 2018
By Konish Naidu


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Facing emotional challenges while working in Manipur

Letting go of a comfortable life back in the city and coming and living in a remote village in the North- East of India is not a piece of cake. But with the right attitude, courage and the will to make a difference, even mountains can be moved. Our former Programme Manager Ankita Phalle was one of these brave people who helped shape many lives. She writes about the emotional ups and downs that she personally encountered while on a visit to Kabuikhullen a Sunbird partner village in Manipur.

 

Kabuikhullen- A village that is 9kms/ 3 hour trek away from Ijeirong with a kaccha road access.
Kabuikhullen- The village that had to resettle to a new land after being struck by an earthquake.
Kabuikhullen- “Their language is different than Ijeirong. It is very harsh.”
Kabuikhullen- “You must not go there alone.”
We have 77 students from Kabuikhullen out of the 230 students staying in the Sunbird Friendship Hostel. And this is all the information I got every time I asked about Kabuikhullen. A kilometer away from Kabuikhullen is Bakuwa. A village from which we have 33 students in the Hostel.
It was high time I visited these villages to know more about them, meet the parents of the boarders, understand their problems and identify whether they would like to be a part of our Livelihood Development Project which I am eagerly waiting to implement to empower these villagers.

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“No, Ankita. How will you go alone? You must not go alone.” said Amos when I phoned him to tell him about my plan.
“But I am not going alone. I am going with the students. I will stay in one of their homes.”
“But don’t go to Kabuikhullen alone is what I am saying. Take some adult with you from the village or wait for me to come back”
“But I am not going alone! I have the students. And I don’t want to trouble someone else to walk so much. Not even you.”
“Okay, but don’t stay in Kabuikhullen then. Stay in Bakuwa.”
“Okay, I will stay in Bakuwa. But I am going on Friday and coming back on Sunday.”
“Can you manage? Stay will not be comfortable. Food is also a problem. Are you sure? Who will translate?”
“I am sure. The students will translate. Don’t worry.”
I knew that a lot of work was going to come up in the following weeks and my movement from Ijeirong would be restricted. So I was hell bent on going for the visit that weekend and wasn’t going to wait for anyone to accompany me.

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My visit there was one of the most emotional site visits of my life. The girls were giggling throughout the trek because I was going to be with them in their village for the next 2 days! It meant so much to them. I reached Bakuwa post-sunset on Friday. I had decided to stay at Lansalu’s house. There was no means to communicate to them about my visit in advance. Surprised by seeing someone from a different part of India, I had a lot of curious pairs of eyes staring at me as I walked through the village to reach Lansa’s house. What a simple but beautiful house it was. Within no time, all parents of the boarders were called for a meeting in Lansa’s house post dinner. Everyone was thrilled to see me there.
“You really trekked all the way here? You are so strong, miss.”
“But you all do it all the time. So you are stronger.”
*insert room full of laughter*

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Each time an important guest has visited Ijeirong and we’ve held a programme, parents have walked up for it. They never got a chance to interact with Chris Sir or any of the Sunbird Team members properly because every time they came up, they had to leave back the same day to make sure they reached their village before sunset. This time parents of both villages had a chance to discuss everything with me. Know more about Sunbird, clear their doubts and share their problems.

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The next two days, the girls took me around Bakuwa and Kabuikhullen. Every house I walked past invited me over for a cup of tea. We could not communicate much, the girls were our translators but they shared their stories with me. Stories of medical cases that could not be treated due to lack of funds, of severe problems faced during emergencies due to difficulties in transportation, of how corruption by the Government and threat from the militants affects their sources of income. I felt helpless and heartbroken hearing them.

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During one of the meetings I was having with a group of parents from Kabuikhullen, one parent stood up and said this-
“Thank you very very much Miss for taking efforts to come all the way down here and visiting our homes and talking to us. We cannot give you much because we have nothing to give you. But we can pray for you and give you our blessings. May God bless you. You will surely go to heaven.”
“Honestly, I want to thank YOU ALL to accept me so warmly. If I walk around Mumbai like this, no one is going to open their homes and invite me inside for a cup of tea without even knowing me. Here, every house I passed invited me inside with a smile, offered me tea and some of them even offered 1 or 2 fruits. This is a lot for me. You already gave me so much.”

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And then I realized how Kabuikhullen, even though so remote, is not at all scary. It is breathtakingly beautiful and people are extremely warm and welcoming. It is just secluded from the rest of the world.

However, I had such contrasting emotions throughout my visit. At one moment it was extreme happiness for seeing heavenly landscapes, at another a feeling of pride to do a 3 day visit in a land this remote without any local adult’s guidance and then the next a feeling of helplessness while listening to the stories of their truth that they shared.

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The first thing I did after reaching back up is phone Chris Sir to say this-
“It was a good visit. Very informative. But I don’t think I can go on any more visits for a long time now. I am extremely overwhelmed. I feel helpless when they share their problems. I can’t hear more of this.”
“But that’s the challenge, Ankita. You must dig deeper into this, find out the problems and work solutions for them. That’s why I am in the city working 16 hours a day to raise funds. You make the plan. Spot the local support. Execute it. You have all the freedom to work and make a difference.”

Leaving this post with a beautiful paragraph I came across today.

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Bring pleasure to the lives of another living being every day. Do that.

 

Date: 16th November 2017
By Ankita Phalle


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Loneliness and Livelihood Development

Former Sunbird Trust Programme Manager Ankita Phalle writes about how she facilitated a Livelihood Development Project with the women of Puichi, a small village neighboring Ijeirong, the de-facto “Headquarters” of Sunbird Trust. She articulates her learnings vividly in this story…

 

When I left Bombay to start work in the Naga hills of Manipur, I had taken a huge step outside my comfort zone by giving up on the comforts of having known friends for conversations, parents to take care, sister to rave and rant to as well as the luxuries of constant electricity, good network and pipeline water. It took me about four months and a half to feel fully comfortable, accepted and be a part of the families of this remote village, Ijeirong. Having said that, the spells of loneliness still hit at times.

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During one of my favorite festivals last month I was alone in Ijeirong, a place which is oblivious to Diwali celebrations. Having made enough “pampering seeking” phone calls in the past four months, I decided to disconnect myself from most people outside Manipur and forced myself to completely live and be mentally in the village during that period. And it worked like a wonder! I moved on from feeling just comfortable to really accepting my host family as my family. I now have a Grandmother, a Grandfather and an amazing set of brothers and sisters in this family. Every day starts with spending an hour in the kitchen talking about how each person plans to spend the rest of the day and ends with another hour in the kitchen around the fire discussing how the day really passed by.

A few days back, once again, Konish and Amos left me to be alone in Ijeirong.  This time I decided to step further beyond the zone I have made myself comfortable in and asked a teacher and a student to take me to a neighboring village, Puichi, to visit the women of that village. Sir Borish and Theophilis were more than happy to guide and accompany me to Puichi. This was the first time I was entering an unknown territory near Ijeirong without Amos, who has always been the one to break the ice when I meet new people and has translated for us. But apart from the heart melting conversations I got to have with Sir Borish and Theo during our hour long trek to Puichi, I also got a chance to communicate directly with the women of Puichi in the broken Inpui language that I have learned so far. And the laughing, joyful, happy faces that the women had on seeing me struggle with Inpui really made my day!

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However, I was on my visit to Puichi with a task in mind. I wanted to finalize a business plan with the women. After spending 5 months with the Inpui Nagas, visiting fields and eating 2 to 3 rice meals a day, every day, I now understand that the Paddy fields in which they channel more than half of their work time throughout the year produce rice barely sufficient for the family consumption and does not create any income for them. Their agricultural sources of income are limited to few vegetable and fruit plantations. Other sources of income include opportunities for day labor in neighboring regions/ towns and teaching. At the end of this academic year, I saw that at least half of the students have a part of their fees due and as much as 54 students out of the 470 could not pay their fees at all. Thus, a strong need was felt for creating opportunities for women to empower themselves and generate more income to be able to afford education and basic improvements in their lifestyle. And that’s a project Sunbird Trust has allowed me to undertake. To create micro business plans with women of 7 neighboring villages of Ijeirong and start a livelihood development project. And that’s what I did. Finalized the business plan for 2 groups of women in Puichi who are now so excited to kick off their small businesses that they gifted me Mustard leaves..because er, they cannot afford any other gifts.

This is the best part of the space I get to work in. Communicate, observe, research, ideate and create opportunities to help empower lives in one of the most ignored regions of India. And the number of crazy ideas my team has come up with in the last one week is going to make me stay back here for longer. Dear Manipur, our chapter has only just begun and is nowhere near the end.

But just after I finished writing this post, I read these words in a book I am currently reading and all the inspiration I had created for myself in the last two days pretty much went down the drain. Haha.

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I am living a funny life up here with contrasting emotions every hour of the day. And I could not have asked for a better platform to learn and work.

 

Date: 6th November 2017
By Ankita Phalle

 


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Mixed Emotions

Former Sunbird Team member Konish Naidu lucidly narrates his experience of living in Ijeirong, a beautiful, remote village tucked away in the lush green hills of Manipur. Read on to know about how there is so much more than meets the eye.

 

Tucked away deep in the Manipuri hills is a beautiful village comprising a total of 37 households called Ijeirong where I reside. A city slicker would never be able to get to such a village without the assistance of a local. Unpaved roads, dirt tracks and during the monsoon only a shaktiman truck can bring you here. Never ending ranges of green hills that never fail to take your breath away and clouds that flow in and out of your room makes your simple existence here an experience that you will never forget.

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Having said this it is not only rainbows and butterflies here in the village, sometimes I feel the people have been given a hard hand to deal with. Living here in a beautiful place with beautiful people might sound quite romantic but this kind of a lifestyle isn’t suited for everyone. No water for days together, no constant electricity supply and no medical help for hours is just the tip of the iceberg. The remoteness of the village contributes to the charm of the place but also causes a major hindrance in the development of the area. Having lived here, eaten , played and interacted with the people to a large extent, my team and I realized the scope for development in the areas and also the growing aspirations of the people to advance as a community but due to the complete detachment from the rest of the country the people lack the privilege of opportunity. Manipur has also been ill-fated with numerous social problems within the population itself which has caused a major setback in the overall development of the state. There are more than 36 ethnic groups and each feels wrongly done for various justifiable reasons. So, in a nutshell lack of opportunity, growing aspirations and social drama between the people itself answer the million dollar question as to why villages here are underdeveloped and off the radar.

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I have to admit though, despite being completely oblivious to other parts of the country the people of the hills have a much better civic sense in comparison to the people in the city. It is not just about keeping the roads and streets clean, they are very considerate with respect to the other’s feelings and abide by the unspoken norms of society which you rarely find in the city.

Another element of the village life that drew my attention is the pure relationship they have with their environment around them. They seem to have found a perfect formula for survival but not at the cost of the environment. Self sustenance is the key. They eat whatever they grow and nothing more. Everything is pure, organic and unadulterated.

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Apart from being farmers, people are master craftsmen and builders. Anything and everything they touch is turned into something that can be used productively. They have not done any engineering and no they don’t have a manual for their reference but what they do have is a “never say no” attitude and an immense understanding of their environment which is again all self-taught and is inherited to the young ones.

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There is a huge wealth of knowledge hidden here with people possessing latent talents and we can all learn something from them. Due to the cumulative effect of various social and economic problems, these talents have not been exposed to the outside world.

I know it will be very hypocritical for me to say that I don’t want this to change but I would be lying if I said I didn’t want this place remain untouched and so pure because I have fallen in love with this place and the people.

But after all, change is inevitable. 

 

Date: 1st October 2017
By Konish Naidu


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“So, why are you here?”

Category : Uncategorized

Konish Naidu, former Sunbird Team member, writes about how he came to be an integral part of the Sunbird Trust organization. He addresses the question ‘So, why are you here?’ which has been thrown at him multiple times. He hopes the readers will understand through his story and pictures, something that he could not explain verbally earlier. Here is his candid story.

 

“I cannot play with boys, they are too strong.” she said.  I profusely tried to convince Farah to play football with the boys in a friendly football match while I was coaching underprivileged children in Bangalore, as a volunteer in Magic Bus. She got the ball and scored a goal, her reaction still brings a smile to my face till date. She ran all the way across the field and hugged me tightly, I was at a loss of words. This was quite a long time ago but recalling it always gives me a delightful feeling.

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If someone told me one year ago, that I would be sitting here high up in the hills of Manipur, planning the campus of a new school, I would think they were delusional. While all my companions were biting their nails and waiting on their placements in multinational companies, I was still waiting for a sign or an indication from the universe for me to find my calling.IMG_5248

 

A couple of months went by and I still was a young man without a plan. Time wasn’t slowing down and I wasn’t getting anywhere either. At this point, I am sure some of you will be expecting the occurrence of a life changing incident that gave me direction and purpose of my being, but unfortunately there wasn’t any such incident but it was me just being a little more observant of my surroundings. The fear of me not being able to find a job compelled me to dig deeper not just into myself but also explore the intricate system of people we call “society”. There is so much more to us than what meets the eye. Being in a metropolitan, sometimes the pace of life never really allows us to notice the truth which is omnipresent but is never acknowledged or is often ignored. Growing as individuals has become a priority for the majority, it is essential but growing selfishly can do only harm and comes at the cost of advancement of others. I worked for a short time with children in Bangalore through a couple of organizations and it did not take me even a week to realize that the biggest victims in this entire façade are the children, who are deprived of education and don’t even have a chance at life. My curiosity eventually evolved into a passion that helped me bridge an emotional connect with the people around me.

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However, at that point of time there was very little I could do and I had to come back to reality and finish my Civil Engineering, but over time my passion only grew stronger and fortunately for me an opportunity came in the form of Col Christopher Rego who has dedicated himself to the people in need and started an organization in places where nobody dared to enter. Sunbird Trust, Col’s brainchild has been doing phenomenal to bring peace in the most violent and desolate parts of North East India through education. This is not an advertisement for my organization and neither am I disregarding the work done by the work done by other organizations but knowing the political and social instability of the area, people usually shy away from even visiting the North East let alone work here. The organization has touched the lives of so many people in places that are non-existent to the rest of the country. On hearing about the work and learning more about the place from Col Rego, my heart was set and my mind was made up. I am now officially part of Sunbird Trust working in the remotest, highly inaccessible but most beautiful regions of India.

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Many a time this particular question gets thrown at my face ‘Why are you doing “social service” after engineering?’. I honestly don’t have a proper answer for it, but only hope they realize there is so much more they can do for others and in doing so they will welcome fulfillment and true satisfaction in their lives.

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People often love to criticize the government, organizations and most of all society, but fail to understand that they are society. They love to demand quick change but not to mention,  don’t comprehend that all good things take time.

Why should you wait for the world to change?

 

Date: 7th September 2017
By Konish Naidu


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One day all children

During Aug 2017, former Sunbird Trust Programme Manager Ankita Phalle was detailed to conduct an appraisal of the feasibility of building a school at the extremely remote and barely accessible Kadi group of villages in Tamenglong District of Manipur. Together with our Project Manager Amos and “Chief Engineer” Konish Naidu, she trekked over 80 kms over three days to complete the allotted task. Here is their story lucidly captured by Ankita…

Amos woke us up at 4:00 am on 22nd August and Konish, Amos and I were in our Bolero by 4:30 am driving towards Gelnel after picking up Lavner enroute. A refreshing cup of chai at Chawangkaning at 7:00 am later, we picked up rice and chicken for lunch and reached Gelnel by 8:30 am. We parked our Bolero in the compound of one of the villager’s house and started our 33km long trek at 8:45 am.

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3 weeks before this day Konish had received a phone call from Chris Sir, the founder of Sunbird Trust, informing him about a villager who had approached Sir asking for help in building a school near their village. We were assigned the task for the site visit and research. The first thought to cross my mind when Konish told me about this was- THIS IS THE DREAM PROJECT I’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO WORK ON. BUILDING A SCHOOL FROM SCRATCH. My excitement level had no bounds and I couldn’t wait for this project to kick start. Thankfully, the weather cleared by 18th August and we met Lavner, the villager who had approached Chris Sir for this project, 2 days before the visit to know about the place a little more. All he told us was that it was a long climb, will be a challenge for us, city kids, and did not believe in us to be able to complete the trek to the village. Especially me. Ouch. The feminist side of me was hurt and I took it up as a chance to prove myself. Little did I know that this site visit was going to cost me every bit of my physical as well as mental strength and stamina.

At 8:45am, when we started our trek, Lavner told us- The first 17-18 kms will be a steep uphill climb to the village called Kadi 3. We will have lunch at Kadi 3. From Kadi 3 to Kadi 4 is another 8 kms. We will have chai at Kadi 4. And then the last leg will be another 8kms through hills from Kadi 4 to Kadi 5, our destination. In total, we were to hike 33kms on Day 1. As mentioned, the first 17kms were steeeeeeeeeep. The remaining 16kms were a combination of steep uphills and downhills.

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I found myself cursing at myself halfway through the first 17kms for taking Lavner’s comment of “specially” me not being able to do the hike so seriously. I could have waited back. Konish and Amos could have gone alone. I could be sitting in Bombay right now in a more comfortable space, sipping over coffee, doing a job that wouldn’t cause me so much mental and physical stress. I could be earning more for the amount of efforts I am giving for this one hike. I could just be home right now in AC, on my bed watching Netflix. And I cursed and cursed and cursed and kept thinking about everything I could be doing but this.

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After one hour long breaks at Kadi 3 and Kadi 4, we successfully reached Kadi 5 at 5pm. We had completed 33kms of trekking through steep hills and valleys, something absolutely no non-tribal had done so far in EIGHT hours. When we reached Lavner’s house people were SURPRISED beyond their imagination to see two non-tribals which included a GIRL reach Kadi 5 in EIGHT hours. Konish, Amos and I could not believe we were alive and we had reached on time. But before we got too carried away with our emotions we remembered what we were there for and started our work immediately.

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Suddenly, we were aware of the fact that these were a group of villages inaccessible by road, had no phone network as well as electricity. These were a group of 8 villages in the hills. Each had a Government Primary School. Every school was defunct. Kids from families had to go to live with relatives in other districts if they wanted to attend a school. This was unaffordable for most families. Kids who did go to school had to go through that trek and figure out public transport to the school and back during every visit to school. This led to most kids dropping out of school. Pregnant women and people facing medical emergencies had lost their lives trying to trek and reach the nearest town with a decent hospital.

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Suddenly, I did not care about the comforts of city life. I did not want Netflix and coffee. Suddenly, all I wanted was that school to be built. Not because it can be a dream project for me. But because they NEED this.
I taught my kids about Empathy through the two years of my Teach For India Fellowship in Bombay. I told them Empathy means to walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes. I walked 80kms in the shoes of these villagers. It made me feel extremely grateful for the comforts I have in my life. It also made me extremely angry to learn that this level of inaccessibility still exists in Twenty Seventeen and people have the nerves to get mad at outsiders who make any negative comment on the development of India. It made me sad to know that most of the working population is unaware of the reality we currently face.

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I hope people get more sensitive towards their environment and other humans around them; that they invest some time to be aware of understanding the truth outside their comfort zones. I hope this visit to the Kadi hills turns out to be fruitful. I hope that one day all children in Kadi will attain an excellent education.

Date: 31 st August, 2017
By Ankita Phalle


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Happiness at Happiness Home

Sunbird Trust Programme Manager Ankita Phalle visited our partner institution Happiness Home at Churachandpur in August 2017. The Home hosts underprivileged children affected or infected by HIV/AIDS. She writes about her short stay and her experience with these truly “Happy” children.

 

As I write this post, I can hear some kids playing the guitar in the background and some singing to the tune. I can hear laughter and I can hear the ducks quack. Today afternoon, over a cup of chai, I had a long chat with Brother Rama about Happiness Home. Not to mention that for the first time in my 3 months in Manipur, I let the chai go cold because I got lost in this conversation. Brother Rama is a Pastor from Churachandpur District of Manipur.
In 2007, during a visit to a hospital, a lady narrated her story to him. She told him she came from a very remote area from Myanmar and that she had lost her husband due to AIDS the previous year; she was infected too and was getting her treatment here. But her landlord, upon finding out about her situation, had asked her to vacate the house. She had no place to go to but had to spend six more months in the town for her medication. On hearing this, brother Rama gave her a small mud hut to live in. Soon, the word spread that he was giving shelter to the poor from Burma and Mizoram who were getting treated in Ccpur. And this is how Happiness Home was formed. It now houses 73 kids and 9 adults. All adults and more than half of the children are infected by HIV. The remaining kids are either siblings of the ones infected or have lost their parents to this disease or have parents suffering from AIDS.

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I asked Brother Rama how is he supporting all of this. He says the support is based on faith. He believes it’s a miracle that he’s able to keep this going. He says they haven’t missed a meal since 2007 and everyone has clothes to wear. All families here are sustaining themselves. They weave, make articles and sell them in the market. The house has its own small farm for vegetables. And no one is lazy. I asked him about the kind of donations they accept. He said they have a principle when it comes to donations- We will not be lazy; not feel sorry for ourselves; accept our status and not beg. We will not look for financial help but create opportunities for ourselves. If anybody is willingly wanting to donate, we will accept material donations. But we will not borrow any money.

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Back in 2009, when the kids went to the hospital for treatment they saw other kids going to school in uniforms. They wished to go too and asked Brother Rama for a school. When he realized that they would not be accepted in a regular school, he began an informal way of schooling in Happiness Home itself. After a few weeks, the kids realized that the other kids wore uniforms too. So they demanded for uniforms too. Not having the financial capacity to purchase new uniforms, he asked other citizens to donate used uniforms. He came back with different colored uniforms and asked the kids if they were okay with wearing different uniforms. Some green, some blue, some white and some black. The kids gladly accepted it! Soon his son, John, took over the responsibility of the school and has a more formalized system in place since 2014. The kids are not classified in classrooms as per their age but as per their learning level. So don’t be surprised to find a 15-year-old studying happily in Class 5. They love reading. They love textbooks. They love learning. THEY LOVE SCHOOL.

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The kids don’t own much. They have one set of clothes each for school, for playing and for the church. Their toys, if any, are donated. Their books, their stationery, donated and shared by all. Some of them have lost their parents to the deadly disease and some are living miles away from them for their treatment. However, one thing that they have in abundance is happiness and joy. They don’t want anyone to pity their situation or feel bad for them. They love their life and feel blessed to be a part of Happiness Home. They don’t know where they will be in the future, what they will do. They know only one thing that right now, at this moment, they are happy.

 

Date: 30th August 2017
By Ankita Phalle


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Living the Dream

Category : Uncategorized

Former Sunbird Trust Programme Manager Ankita Phalle was one of the first team members of the organization. She was a major catalyst in structuring and growing our fledgling organization. Warmly hosted by team member Amos and his family at tiny Ijeirong village nestled among rolling hills and verdant forests in Noney District of Manipur, she writes about her learning and experience.

 

My home in Manipur is in a village called Ijeirong. I live here in a wooden cottage surrounded by greens on all sides overlooking a mountain that reminds me of a picture of Scotland. The wooden cottage was built by Sunbird Trust next to a village home. So I am mainly living with a new family but I sleep and work in the cottage.  If I keep the windows open, clouds enter my room. If I keep the windows as well as the door open, clouds pass through my room. They enter through the window and leave from the door. This is everything I’ve always dreamt of living in, settling in. Yes, as people on Social Media keep telling me – I am living the dream!

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However, I have learned that this is not everything there is to this dream. There is much much more. I learned that a remote village in the North East means heavy rainfall for 5 months of the year. A remote village in the mountains also means no water pipeline network that gives you continuous access to water which means it is great to have rainfall as it fills all the water storage drums. But storms result in damaged electricity poles which leave us without power supply for days, sometimes for weeks at a stretch. I am lucky I have solar panels installed in my house but they put on the solar mode for power only for 3 hours in the night when I can charge my devices. This led to me being conscious about my usage of cellphone and laptop. Often, I find myself wondering- what would I opt for if I had the choice, rainfall or the sun? If I want to enjoy the benefit of rainfall filling water drums, I have to lose out on the solar panels getting enough sunlight to be charged to give 3 hours of power supply at night.

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I have also learned how to have a hair bath with only one bucket of water. Even though there is abundant rainfall, it is not possible to have a long warm water bath. Due to an absence of electricity on most days and no access to continuous water supply, I have to wait for 20 minutes for half a bucket of water to get heated on the wood-fire and then balance the water usage really well between my shampoo, conditioner, face wash and body wash during my bath. And the family tells me that once it stops raining, I will have to walk downhill for 10 minutes to fetch water.

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I learned that to live my dream in the mountains, I need to truly accept their culture. Which means eating two rice and curry (boiled leafy vegetables) meals a day. Their lifestyle consists of first meal at 6:30am and second meal at 6:30pm. They don’t have the concept of Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. I disliked rice when I lived in Bombay. Here, I started off with carrying packets of bread and butter whenever I got the chance to visit the closest town or city. I have not been eating bread in the morning from a week now. Now I have accustomed my body to eat 3 rice meals a day and I enjoy the taste. I know I have not yet succeeded in adapting their eating habits completely but to go from having rice once in two months to having it thrice a day without any wheat intake in the diet, from removing part of the rice served to asking for more rice, I have definitely come a long way!

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I am living a healthier lifestyle than the one I was living in the city. It’s different but it’s healthy. I no longer complain about it either.  I still agree when people say that I am living the dream. But hey, the dream comes with a lot of lifestyle changes and it’s not always rainbows and butterflies. It’s consistent power cuts, creepy crawlies on the bed, rats eating clothes and stocked food, one-bucket-of-water baths, non-wheat and cheese meals too. It’s fresh air but 2km long hikes to work too.  It’s organic food but a craving for city food and drinks when Facebook pops up a recipe video or a friend puts up a food story on Instagram too. It’s a wooden cottage amidst clouds and mountains but missing the concrete bedroom next to traffic too.

 

Date: 1 st August, 2017
By Ankita Phalle